The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: A Review

25814351-_uy2146_ss2146_So there I was at the library and the “new arrivals” end cap had this book on it. As someone whose university work was in biblical studies and manuscripts, this sounded like an interesting book. I like manuscripts. I like libraries. I like librarians. I like the word Timbuktu. And I like having a way to type “bad-ass” without my conservative Christian readers getting to upset! I might ruffle a couple feathers, but c’mon, people – I didn’t create the book title.

I will take umbrage at Joshua Hammer’s subtitle, though. “And their race to save the world’s most precious manuscripts” is a highly subjective opinion. That is to say, I would not put the value of these manuscripts above the value of biblical manuscripts. From my worldview, ancient Jewish and Christian manuscripts are the world’s MOST precious. But in the book, Mr. Hammer doesn’t use comparative language to talk about Timbuktu’s texts and other religious texts, so the subtitle seems to be more click-bait writing than assertion of fact.

f9640db90172f4e8ecc3ae61801f9259The book itself is primarily the history of the textual tradition of Timbuktu, which was to West Africa what Alexandria was in Egypt, a giant repository of learning, thinking, and writing. What makes the librarians of Timbuktu so incredible is that they have been in a long-term struggle to collect and preserve the manuscripts for nearly 700 years. Time and again, the region was overcome by extremists who disliked the idea of wide and varied learning being stored and disseminated, so there has been continual struggle between those who love the texts and Muslims who believe the texts pull people away from Islam.

In that sense, the book almost becomes a defense against moderate Islam, portraying moderates and lovers of learning and embracing of a plethora of ideas.

So the radical Muslims who want to destroy the books are the bad-guys. Mr. Hammer digresses in his story of the librarians to devote quite a few pages to the history of the extremist Muslims and Al Qaeda in the region. Regardless of one’s faith, I think we can all appreciate the bravery and daring of the people who worked to hide, recover, and salvage these ancient manuscripts.

All said and done, I found the book to be very interesting and it taught me things about Africa I never knew. The literary tradition in Africa, contrary to some Western thought, was not nonexistent. People of all cultures are more alike than we sometimes give them credit for, and Western and Northern Africa has had its fair share of poets, mathematicians, doctors, and philosophers who believed in committing to paper (or animal skin, or whatever) thoughts, words, sentences, and books. I also enjoyed learning more about the history of the region.

Finally, the book helps remind me of the painstaking work Christian scholars have done (and continue to do) with biblical manuscripts. If you’re interested, take some time to look into the work of Bruce Metzger and others who write about the New Testament and our own textual traditions.

Is The Bible More Violent than the Quran?

religion-40578_1280I recently read an article that stated the Bible is more violent than the Quran. The engineer who developed the analysis program said:

The project was inspired by the ongoing public debate around whether or not terrorism connected with Islamic fundamentalism reflects something inherently and distinctly violent about Islam compared to other major religions. ~ Tom Anderson

So in two minutes his program looked at eight emotions – Joy, Anticipation, Anger, Disgust, Sadness, Surprise, Fear/Anxiety and Trust – and concluded that the Bible scored higher for anger and lower for trust than the Quran.

The New Testament references killing and destruction 2.8% of the time while the Quran references killing and destruction 2.1%. I’ll be honest, the article doesn’t talk about the ins and outs of the program, but it’s a computer program and not a human. It’s geared towards finding quantitative data rather than qualitative data. what I mean is this:

The New Testament has some inherently violent elements. After all, it talks about the intentional self-sacrifice of Christ, who was plotted against, crucified/murdered, dead, and buried. Yes, those are some violent parts of the New Testament. But the overwhelming theme BEHIND the keyword violence is love – God’s love and self-sacrifice. I would rather have this 2.8% kind of violence than a 2.1% of Quranic violence that talks about doing harm to infidels (again, I’m not familiar with the ins and outs of the program nor do I know what material in the Quran was targeted).

My point is simply that, though the New Testament does contain Jesus 05keyword elements of violence, it is not done in a way that directs others towards violence. In fact, an honest reading of the New Testament directs people AWAY from violence and towards peace. Contrary to ultra-conservative leanings, Jesus was NOT a gun-toting war-monger.

On the flip-side, however, we need to be honest and realize that, just as violent themes in our sacred text do not necessarily lead to violent Christians, violent themes in the Quran do not necessarily lead to violent Muslims.

In the end, a simple computer search of emotional language in a sacred text is a pretty shoddy way of evaluating that text – ANY sacred text. It eliminates any nuance. It looks at the text through a single interpretive lens – the lens of the software engineer.

And that’s just shoddy hermeneutics.

When Faith and the U.S. Military Collide

Let me begin by pointing out (yet again) that I speak for myself. These are my opinions soldier-708711_1280and reflections. I do not speak for the military or the government. Okay, ready?

This week I read an article saying that Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is once again up in arms about a Christian in the military expressing his faith. This time his furor is directed against an Army Colonel who shared a story about his grandfather’s faith and encouraged Service Members to work on spiritual fitness through prayer. Weinstein’s statement says:

Apparently, Colonel Thomas Hundley can’t figure out whether he’s an active duty senior Army officer or an evangelical Christian missionary? Further, DoD can’t seem to, likewise, decipher whether they are paying him to be one or the other. Where the hell is the adult supervision for senior, active duty officer, Constitutional compliance at DoD?….

Colonel Hundley has absolutely no business or authority under American law to be conflating his Army officer rank, title and position with his professed evangelical Christian faith.

Let’s break down what’s really happening, okay?

1. The military recognizes that spiritual fitness is an important component in overall health. The Army defines spirituality:

Spirituality, as defined by Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, is strengthening a set of beliefs, principles or values that sustain a person beyond family, institutional, and societal sources of strength.

Did you see the part in there that defines spirituality as Christian faith? No? Because it isn’t there. What we’re talking about is the general concept that healthy and fit Service Members have a healthy spirituality WHATEVER THEIR PARTICULAR EXPRESSION LOOKS LIKE.

For the Colonel, his spirituality takes the shape of Christianity.

2. The Colonel did not tell people that his background needed to be everyone’s background. He related a story about his grandfather to share about his own journey, but there was no proselytizing – he wasn’t trying to convert anyone. Sharing personal stories isn’t the same thing as actively trying to convert others.

And finally,

3. Calling people to prayer is really the least offensive way of talking about spiritual growth. All the major religions have a form of prayer and/or meditation. I can encourage Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, Atheists, EVERYONE to engage in spiritual behavior through prayer/meditation. It’s not a behavior unique to Christianity.

Let me give you some personal examples from my own ministry as a military chaplain. My job as a chaplain is NOT to walk around finding people to whack on the head with my Bible and yell, “YOU NEED JESUS!” No, my job is to see to the free exercise of religion for ALL of the Service Members I come across.

Not too long ago I was asked about facilitating a need for Islamic prayer. Easy day! I kid-1077793_1920acquired a Muslim prayer rug for the Religious Ministry Team (RMT) and gave the Service Member space for prayer. I have also given out copies of the Koran, the Book of Morman, Jewish prayer books, and yes, even Bibles, when Service Members let me know they have a need.

So no, the Chaplain Corps is not about making converts. Christians in the military are not hell-bent on making converts. Yes, it is perfectly acceptable for senior leadership to suggest Service Members engage in some form of prayer/meditation as a means to strengthen their spirituality.

On a final note, it is possible for us to hold to our own beliefs while still supporting the rights of others to have their beliefs. This is where we get to the biblical behavior lesson for the day. As Christians we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are also called to treat people the way we wish to be treated. We don’t have to argue the rightness/wrongness of faith. We can be faithful to our own spirituality and still respect the faith and religions of those who disagree with us.

As the Apostle Paul writes in Colossians:

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.


When Middle School Students Are Forced to Study Islam

Tennessee’s Butt is in the news.

Seriously, Tennessee Representative Sheila Butt is making headlines. Go ahead and get the jokes and snickering out of the way right now. I’ll give you a minute.

Ready now?


Here’s the deal – parents of middle school students got together to complain about the curriculum used to teach their students about Islam. It seems they thought there was more indoctrination than simple instruction. islamic-educationIf you read the whole article you will see that students aren’t subjected to Islam alone. The middle school curriculum takes them through several of the world’s major religions, including Christianity and Judaism.

Enter Ms. Butt. She’s trying to pass legislation prohibiting schools from teaching religious doctrine to students before 10th grade. Of course, the left is getting fired up over the issue. The Huffington Post politics page wrote about Rep. Butt’s attempt to push this legislation through. The feel of the piece is, “Those Islamophobic Christians are at it again!”

And they’re partly right.


The legislation DOES seem to be anti-Islam in nature. But don’t let the Huffington Post article fool you. They quote an educator who lauds the contributions of Islam to the world (like the invention of algebra). The problem is that many of the contributions from Islam were actually from others cultures.

But here’s the thing: Christians don’t need to be up in arms about the world’s religions being taught in schools. Good parents are actively involved in the education of their children and should be having discussions about class material no matter what the content is. The “We don’t want the schools teaching this stuff to our kids” attitude only rears its head when parents take a hands-off approach to their kids’ education. Parents, find out what your kids are learning and talk about it at home. Teach them what the Bible says.

Here’s the other thing: Christians don’t need to be up in arms about the world’s religions being taught in schools (yes, I know I already said that). Jesus is big enough to handle middle school students hearing about other faith traditions. I can’t see the Apostle Paul getting his knickers in a twist when people offered competing world views. This is the guy who once wrote:

If someone who isn’t a Christian asks you home for dinner, go ahead; accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you and don’t ask any questions about it. Your conscience should not be bothered by this. (1 Corinthians 10:27)

He wasn’t bothered by what other people believed – he simply continued to preach the truth that he always preached. I think we can do the same.

So be actively involved in your kids’ education, but trust that God is a big God and isn’t threatened by other faiths.

Christians Were Violent, Too!

Imagine a husband and wife having a fight. The wife, with a legitimate complaint, says, “I can’t believe you did ___________!” The husband has two choices. He can a) address the issue face up to the complaint or b) distract from the current issue by saying, “Yeah, but you did the same kind of thing to me last year!”

The second response is called deflecting. It’s avoiding dealing with the current issue by pointing fingers at the past. This is what is happening in the religiopolitical conversation taking place between Islam and Christianity. While people are bringing up valid concerns about the behavior of global Islam, it is merely deflecting to say, “Yes, but Christians behaved atrociously a thousand years ago in the Crusades.”

Islam vs Christianity

There is an appropriate time and place to address historical Christian behavior (and, for the most part, contemporary Christian leaders have apologized for historical Christian violence). Still, one should not bring up those issues to deflect or diminish the original complaint.

In our world today there is a valid concern about Islamic violence globally against Christians AND non-Christians. (non-violent Muslim-Americans do not negate the violent acts carried out daily by Muslims in other nations).

From a biblical point of view, we are called to pray for those who persecute us. We are called to do good for those who would do us harm. There is an incredible notion that we love even the people who loathe us. In the conversation about Islam we too often lose sight of this ethic. I believe it is possible to love and pray for those who would do us harm while still speaking the truth.

And the truth is, it is not the Church that has people fearing for life and limb. For the last thousand years that role has been taken up by global Islam.

We can drop the angry rhetoric. I don’t think it’s loving or Christ-like. We don’t have to hurl insults at Muslims. Angry rhetoric We ought be keeping ourselves in check and asking, “How can I speak truth about the world while still maintaining a loving outlook towards everyone?”

That’s the Christian way.

*If any of this post has resonated with you, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email the link to your friends and family. Thanks! 🙂

Hello, May I Speak With Muhammad? – Calling Muslims

Have you head about this? It seems Duke University will start sounding the Muslim call to prayer from the bell tower of the campus chapel every week.

Call to Prayer

Statistically, most private institutions grow more liberal as time goes on. Still, it’s disheartening to see an institution founded by Methodists and Quakers over 100 years ago move towards religious pluralism.

I understand that universities try to accommodate all students, but the call to prayer seems a tad excessive. The call to prayer is this:

Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest.
I bear witness that there is no God but Allah.
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
Hasten to worship.
Hasten to success.
Prayer is better than sleep.
Allah is greatest.
There is no God but Allah.

My question is this: When will Duke University start sounding a call to Christian worship proclaiming Acts 4:11-12 ~

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Yeah, I didn’t think so. It’s not gonna happen.

So where’s the equity?

It’s simply non-existent. Allah forbid we make non-Christians listen to proclamations about our faith that there is no other way than Jesus. But when it comes to proclaiming that Allah is the only one? Sure, we’ll allow that.

Maybe because it’s said in Arabic we ignore what’s actually be said. Can we broadcast the Bible across campus if we do it in biblical Greek? Probably still not gonna fly.

But these are the times we’re living in. The Christian perspective is more and more being pushed aside to make way for pluralism. But it’s a faux pluralism. It’s a pluralism that allows for every faith to be present EXCEPT for Christianity. We’re relegated to the corner as religious kooks who cannot bring our faith to the public square.

Funny thing is my reading in the Gospel According to Luke this week comes from Luke 6:27-28, where Jesus says:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Hard words to hear.

Harder words to live out.

But if we really desire to live a life that follows Jesus we need to be putting his words into practice. That means no matter what injustice and inequality is brought against our faith, we love them, do good things to and for them, and pray for them.

I’m not sure Jesus knew what he was asking, ’cause it’s a pretty tall order.

Or maybe he really did know. Maybe he knew our human tendency to hate and mistreat those who oppose us (whether theologically, emotionally, physically, WHATEVER). Jesus calls us to go above and beyond – even towards those who would be considered opposition.

The difficult question for us is: Will we follow his instruction?


Seems Duke has changed their position and the call will no longer be broadcast from the belltower.

I’m Not Intolerant, I’m a Christian


Over the last few days I’ve had several experiences with people regarding the idea of Christian intolerance and -phobia. In case you didn’t know, the in-thing is to take whatever Christians are against and add -phobe or -phobia to the word, thus creating a new word that labels the Christian as a hater.

Do you disapprove of homosexual behavior?

You’re a homophobe.

Do you disagree with Muslim faith?

You’re an Islamophobe.

Apparently anything you stand against is now something you’re afraid of. Except the definition of phobia is now being broadened to include “dislike of a specified thing or group.”

That makes me:

– a greenbeanophobe (never liked ’em – never will)
– a V8ophobe (c’mon, drinking tomato juice?!?)
– a wasabiphobe (I thought it was something else when I put a whole spoonful in my mouth…)

and a whole host of other things I dislike. It’s misleading to attach -phobe to designate dislike of something. It is attempt to attach a negative and derogatory label without understanding anything about anyone’s position.

In terms of faith it often comes down to Christians being labeled “intolerant” and/or “bigot.”

But I’m not intolerant.


I have a willingness to allow the existence of other opinions and behavior I don’t agree with. I have never forced anyone to change to my way of thinking. So I guess I’m tolerant. Yay, me!

As for bigot, the all-knowing Wikipedia defines it as “someone who, as a result of their prejudices, treats or views other people with fear, distrust or hatred.”

But prejudice is “prejudgment, or forming an opinion before becoming aware of the relevant facts of a case.”

I have not pre-judged other faith groups or formed an opinion before becoming aware of relevant facts. As a Christian, I will go with Jesus when he says:

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Or Peter when he preached about Jesus:

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

So I’m not prejudiced. My views about other faith groups are based on my understanding that Christianity is the only way to God. And if I’m not prejudiced then I’m not bigoted, for bigotry requires prejudice.

So here I am: a tolerant, unprejudiced, non-bigoted Christian.

But I’ll still tell you that Jesus is the only way and that, as much as we can, we need to conform our lives to the character of God and the kind of lives he calls us to lead as revealed in the Bible.

And that message won’t change, no matter what the Christianphobes say about it.

You Tried to Tell Me Islam Meant Peace, But You Lied


I’m not dumb – I know that the translation of Islam actually means peace (or submission, but the root slm is the same as the Hebrew shalom). But the façade of peace is wearing mighty thin.

While Christians in America cry persecution too easily, Christians in other areas of the world are highly persecuted. According to a 2014 report from the Pew Research Center, Christianity is the religious group most likely to be persecuted worldwide. We’re seeing this horrible truth play out in the story of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim.

She’s a 27 year old mother of one and eight months pregnant with child number two. She and her child are in prison in Sudan.


Because she’s a Christian and refuses to recant. And conversion from Islam is a crime punishable by death. Thank you, Sharia law, for your righteous judgment.

But Islam is the way of peace.


Eye roll

This whole situation is tragic. It’s the kind of thing that has me saying, “Let’s just send in Army Rangers and extract her and her family (her husband has U.S. citizenship) by force!”

Probably not gonna happen.

As Christians, stories such as this should not surprise us. Once upon a time they would have been the norm for all Christians. But we’ve grown soft in the last 1700 years. Many of us have had protection and shelter from real persecution.

But it seems as though we’re returning to a place where we can expect more and more of the world to turn against us. It’s in times such as these that the Bible speaks loudly about hope and perseverance. Though troubles like this come, we know that our God controls the big picture, and one day the struggles and trouble of this world will be behind us.

Until then, we can contact political leaders and make a push for intervention. We can share the story and get the word out to the world.

Most importantly, we can pray hard for Christians around the world who face these situations.


Meriam has reportedly given birth to a baby girl. Now we wait and see what the Sudanese government does. Now we wait and see what the international community does…

*Related Post*
Persecuted Christianity

My Problem with Islam, Atheists, and Hitler

Image courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot /
Image courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot /

Have you ever had one of those REALLY awkward moments?

I had one last week. I was in the local coffee shop having coffee with a couple from the church. Our conversation turned to faith and religion – specifically difference between Christianity and other faiths. I talked about Islam and Christianity and some of the difference between them.

Then the awkward moment came.

Apparently the dude in the booth behind us was a Muslim.

He came up, said a couple words in Arabic, then sarcastically said, “Brother, it’s good to hear your views on Islam.” Then he walked away. He was clearly unhappy with me.

But that doesn’t change my mind. I have a problem with Islam. Islam has a problem with me. Please don’t turn this into a race or patriotic issue. This is a biblical issue.

It’s really quite simple and can be summed up in one word:


The distinction between Christianity and all other faith groups is the idea that our path to God is found through Christ. There is no other road walk.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

This is my problem with Islam – it’s an attempt to find God apart from Jesus. Some claim that everyone will find God in their own way as long as they are faithful to their beliefs. This is contrary to Christian belief. The idea that everyone will get there on their own is called Universalism.

I’ve been accused of being a Universalist.

In my post You’re Not Really Saved I talked about how Christian behavior is not as rigid as some would like to believe. There is a wide variety of behavior people engage in and can still be Christian.

People accused me of being a Universalist, of throwing Christian morality out the window. Not so. Universalism says that everyone will get to God on their own. My view is that there is only one way to God – through Jesus. We come to Jesus with all sorts of brokenness. It is when we begin our spiritual journey with Jesus that we start living out a new life. We don’t always come to the same conclusions about what is “proper Christian behavior” but we have the same foundation – Jesus Christ.

After reading my post about Christian behavior an atheist asked me if Hitler was then saved. In the sense described above (the exclusivity of Jesus) Hitler, who was not a believer in Jesus as the only way, will not spend eternity in the presence of God. The same is true for Muslims, Hindus, Jedi, or any other faith group.

This is the fundamental problem that authentic, biblical Christianity will always have with the world. And the world will have a problem with biblical Christianity. It’s that exclusivity that bugs people.

But I didn’t make it up.

God did.

Muslims, Murder, & Forgiveness

Love – Forgive - Live

If you haven’t heard by now Nidal Hasan, the Soldier who murdered 13 people and injured dozens others in a mass shooting back in 2009, was finally convicted – found guilty of premeditated murder. You can read about it here. I wanted to take a few minutes to respond because I believe how Christians respond is important.

It will be very easy to let our response focus on the murderer’s religion. He is a Muslim. His shooting spree seemed (at least in part) to be motivated by a reaction to American involvement in Muslim nations overseas. Prosecutors claim Hasan believed he had a jihad duty to kill as many Soldiers as possible. He also yelled, “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great in Arabic) before opening fire on innocents. Yes, there seems to be a strong connection to his Islamic faith.

I know that there will be many individuals (and conservative talking heads) who will want to point out that Islam is not compatible with the West and will always be opposed to Democracy. I’ve heard the arguments that Islam will never truly be peaceful towards Christianity. It is easy to lump all Muslims into a single category. It’s almost a natural reaction because we’ve been at war in Muslim nations for so long. Americans been attacked at home and abroad by Muslims. And I will be totally honest here – I also believe that in the big picture Islam will never be at peace with Christianity.

I do not believe, however, that we can demonize all individuals because of the actions of others. I do not want to lumped together with “Christians” from Westboro Baptist Church. Hasan is Muslim, yes, but he acted alone. The tendency will be to look sideways at all Muslims (indeed, all brown-skinned foreigners) as if any of them, at any moment, might open fire. But let’s not jump to that extreme. Before you know it we’ll be creating internment camps for anyone who is “other than.”

Let’s remember that sick individuals do sick things all the time without greater ties to worldwide movements. When a white teenager opens fire on a movie theater we don’t go around acting suspiciously of all white teens (well, maybe some people do, but in general I think not!). Jump off the bandwagon and turn off Fair and Balanced news outlets and use common sense. Messed up people do messed up things. Don’t fly off the handle – Hasan admitted to the shooting and was found guilty. He will pay – possibly with his life.

From a biblical point of view we need to consider the words of the Apostle Paul:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. (Romans 12:14,17a)

Nidal Hasan committed atrocious acts of evil against dozens of people. There is no excuse. There is no justification. But God calls the faithful to live a different way – without seeking to do damage to the offender, God calls us to bless and to avoid vengeance. We are to pursue forgiveness, in spite of what people do to us. It’s hard to even talk about, much less to live out. Like the Matthew West song says:

It’s the hardest thing to give away, it’s the last thing on your mind today – it always goes to those who don’t deserve – – -forgiveness

There will be hours of talk radio and news reports filled with stories, speculation, and judgments against Nidal Hasan. He will get what is coming to him. Even if you think his earthly punishment is not severe enough we can rest knowing that all of us will one day stand before the Creator of the Universe and give an account for our behavior here on earth. Hasan will. I will. You will, too.

So let’s not focus on hatred and fear and loathing of this sick and evil man. Let’s turn those emotions over to God. If you have to direct your focus anywhere, grieve and mourn with the families that are suffering loss because of this man’s actions. Love on the survivors.



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